From January 2013 to January 2016
Project Leader(s): Professor Helen Berry, Professor Jason M. Kelly, Professor Phil Scarpino
Contact: Professor Helen Berry
Partners: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
‘Rivers of the Anthropocene’ is an interdisciplinary research project bringing together scholars from the arts and humanities with scientists in order to address the most pressing environmental issues in relation to climate change and water management. The project uses the concept of the Anthropocene – adopted by some scientists to describe the new human-forged geological era since 1750 instituted by industrialization – to consider the changes that have been wrought upon river systems by human intervention. In Phase I of the project (January 2013- January 2014) researchers will take a comparative approach to studying the Ohio River and the River Tyne. Faculty collaborators from the project’s lead institutions, Newcastle University and Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, working with a network of colleagues across the UK, USA and European Union, will map the cultural, social, political, and scientific histories of the Ohio and Tyne river valleys, presenting their findings at a workshop in Newcastle (October 2013) and a symposium in Indianapolis (January 2014). These events will also engage stakeholders from heritage management, public policy, and environmental conservation so that the research has impact both within and beyond academia. As the first interdisciplinary and international comparative study of river environments, it will provide a model for future global comparisons planned in Phase II (January 2014- January 2016).
Although, separated by thousands of miles and different historical contexts related to human interaction, the Ohio and Tyne have much in common that allows for significant, interdisciplinary points of comparison. Both have a long history of human use, stretching back before the Roman occupation in England and the Woodland Native American culture in the Ohio River Valley that flourished up to 3000 years ago. The United States developed a tradition of riparian law in the Eastern portion of the country that was based on English precedent. Historically, river use and development rested on similar attitudes towards nature. Both rivers and their drainage systems were heavily modified by human actions, and both pass through rural landscapes and major urban areas.
Both have served important social and economic needs while simultaneously generating problems associated with the unintended and unanticipated consequences of those same activities. As a result of historical use and development, both rivers are linked to an international, maritime transportation network, which moves not only freight and recreational users but also facilitates the mixing of species around the surface of the earth. The Tyne and the Ohio historically provided energy for manufacturing, and both currently serve as major transportation routes for coal and other energy sources. Each has presented challenges related to flooding and flood control and land use in flood-prone zones. Both have experienced significant degradation of water quality and fauna and flora as the result of agricultural and urban growth, and both have benefitted from dramatic changes in public attitudes and policies in the past several decades that have resulted in new interest in the rivers as recreational and heritage corridors. Cities that had once turned their backs on badly polluted rivers have gone to great lengths to clean them up and make them important parts of an enhanced, urban quality of life. Both serve important clean-water uses (domestic, industrial, recreational), while simultaneously remaining “sinks” for point and non-point pollution.
This project is under development by an interdisciplinary team from Newcastle University and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Applications for research grant bids in the UK, USA and EU are currently in process.
Professor Helen Berry